The Court Tower Conspiracy: Andrew Thomas and Joe Arpaio's Court Tower "Cover-Up" Sounds Like a Good Story, But It's Pure Fiction

If Andrew Thomas were the one telling this story, he'd probably begin it on December 12, 2008.

That's the day Thomas, the newly re-elected Maricopa County Attorney, issued a subpoena to other county officials — demanding to see all contracts and procurement documents from the court tower about to break ground in downtown Phoenix.

Thomas would surely tell you that he and his closest ally, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, had become convinced that the project had fallen prey to misspending, graft, even outright corruption. Grand jury time!

Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio have taken on the county supervisors.
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Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio have taken on the county supervisors.
AJ Alexander

But county officials blocked Thomas from getting the records. As Thomas would tell it, corrupt judges refused to acknowledge their conflicts of interest. They quashed Thomas' subpoenas and kicked his office off the case — refusing to change their minds even after Thomas provided them with shocking new evidence.

So Thomas had to file a racketeering claim against county judges, officials, and their lawyer, Tom Irvine. He had to file a criminal claim against the judge who denied him the court tower records. Anything to root out corruption.

Or so Thomas would tell you.


If someone else were telling this story, they'd undoubtedly start it earlier than Thomas.

They might well start it on December 5, 2008 — just one week before Thomas.

By that point, the relationship between Thomas and Arpaio and the other county officials had taken a turn for the worse.

As the county attempted to deal with a shrinking economy and budget shortfall, the sheriff began loudly questioning why county administrators were pushing forward with the pricey construction project, even as his budget was being cut.

Then came the indictment against Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, charging that he'd failed to disclose his financial interests on county-mandated forms.

Those charges ought to amount to a few misdemeanors, legal experts say. Yet in this case, Arpaio and Thomas slapped Stapley with 118 criminal counts — half of them felonies.

And so on December 5, four county supervisors — the board minus Stapley, who recused himself — met to discuss the ramifications of Stapley's indictment. They'd long considered Thomas their attorney, to the point that Stapley had even gotten legal advice from Thomas' office on filling out his disclosure forms. Now Thomas was prosecuting Stapley for the very same matter it once advised him on.

Could the supervisors trust Thomas? How could he possibly have their interests at heart when he was trying to prosecute one of their own? The supervisors no longer knew what to believe.

At that meeting, the supervisors took action. They took the first step toward a series of moves that would eventually strip Thomas of much of his civil division, instead setting up a separate unit that answered to the County Manager's Office.

That day, they appointed an outside lawyer to look into Thomas' conflicts of interests. That lawyer: Tom Irvine.

Irvine had long been involved with the court tower project, as Thomas' office was well aware.

And that's why it's so interesting that — just one week after Irvine was hired to look into Thomas' conflicts — Thomas went after Irvine, and the court tower, with a vengeance.

To date, no one — from Arpaio to Thomas to the media to the conservative bloggers who've fumed over the project — has offered specific allegations of impropriety regarding the court tower's construction. Yet the project is at the center of every conspiracy theory Thomas and Arpaio have proffered in the past year.

Indeed, Arpaio and Thomas have made the court tower the subject of a grand jury investigation. It's been Exhibit A in a "racketeering" lawsuit that Thomas filed against county officials, charging that the supervisors, some county judges, and their lawyers are a "criminal enterprise." The project is also at the heart of a criminal complaint against the county's presiding criminal court judge — Thomas charged, in essence, that Judge Gary Donahoe had obstructed justice by stopping Thomas' probe.

The court tower conspiracy has also been Thomas' chief tool in a concerted effort to smear Irvine.

In the 14 months since the board of supervisors hired Irvine to look into Thomas, Irvine has been sued by Thomas — twice. One suit is the racketeering claim, accusing Irvine and his law partner of being part of a criminal enterprise. The second, since dropped, accused Irvine of trying to usurp Thomas' power.

Thomas hasn't limited his animus to civil suits. The county attorney announced, in court filings, that Irvine was a target of a criminal investigation related to the court tower. He also got a friendly local television journalist interested in his Irvine-focused conspiracy theory. Josh Bernstein, a news reporter at Channel 15 (KNXV), actually attempted one of those parking lot stalking jobs by following Irvine with a camera, shouting questions.

Typically, you see people get that treatment when they're caught with their hand in the till — or in the pants of a little boy. Not Irvine. The most Thomas (or Bernstein) has alleged to date is that Irvine has dared to represent both the county judiciary and the county supervisors on the court tower project.

Never mind that neither the judiciary nor the supervisors have the slightest complaint about Irvine's performance. Never mind that the two parties are far from adversarial.

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14 comments
Mike Powell
Mike Powell

I have always thought that the use of marijuana was illegal in Arizona, however it seems that our City/County officials have been partaking liberally. Seriously, how does one graduate from Law school ( I assume Mr. Thomas did so ) and not know that you can't have it both ways? Also, rgtqwhere is the evidence of wrongdoing? Isn't application of the law based on facts and evidence, or is it just the whim of a disgruntled attorney?

FromAfar
FromAfar

correction to above: Ben you sent a mixed message. Note, I was speaking about the court tower. Thomas and Arpaio abuse of power has overcrowded the courts, the jails and the prisons -- therefore a Court Tower is needed. It's a result of the mass incarceration of Arizona's people by Thomas, Arpaio and Sen. Russell Pearce who writes the bills for them.

Abuse of power reigns terror over the state and the Troika needs to be sent to the prisons they created -- now all privatized. Follow the money....

FromAfar
FromAfar

Ben from Wind Gap -- You nailed it!!

Ben
Ben

Apparently there is a need for more court space because of the illegal immigration influx coupled with the rising event of home grown crime which will get worse as the economy gets worse. Therefore it doesn�t make sense to cut the sheriff and other enforcement budgets unless you are trying to slowdown the enforcement of the laws that is keeping the immigration and other law enforcement problems from sprawling into a problem that will consume even more of the budget along, property values, school cost and general quality of life.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

clarification: They prey on the ignorant masses to get re-elected, while taking down those who challenge them, the intelligent and brightest in Maricopa County.

Arizona needs to add Civics classes in the school and learn about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and how to protect themselves from abuse of power by a government that is out of control.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Outstanding investigative reporting! Sarah, you certainly captured the essence of what corruption looks like in Maricopa County. They prey on the ignorant masses.

j.WINSTON
j.WINSTON

Arpiao and Thomas are jokes..but they are dangerous jokes as they can wield the judicial system like a weapon...when will the public figures in our county and state get the courage to expose them for what they are follow-up with legal proceedings for all their scandals...why is everyone so scared. We are a major city not a back water town where the judge and the prosecutor and the sheriff are all half brothers.Hopefully Thomas will run in the primaries and lose and that way we will get him out of office early. And hopefully Arpaio wil finally be found guilty on at least one of the numerous abuses he has perpetrated only the citizens of Maricopa..I agree with one of the other comments..it is Twilight Zone or rather Reason Free Zone

(S)He's a very manipulative ma
(S)He's a very manipulative ma

a)Wilson about Hendershottb)Sheila Polk and Don Stapley about Arpaioc)Supervisors,Tom Irvine about Thomasd)Judge Donhue and Ed Novak about Ms. Aubuchoune) all of the above.The correct answer is e) all of the above. Hendershott, Arpaio, Thomas, and Lisa Aubuchoun (who acts like a man)are all manipulative as hell. VOTERS wake up. Thomas wants to bring this nonsense to the entire state.

Pete Snow
Pete Snow

Alexander doesn't have time to do her job, she is too busy blogging about the Tower over on the Sonoran Alliance Blog.

Spartacus
Spartacus

Every Time I drive up to Phoenix from Cochise County I expect to see Rod Serling standing along I-10 in a dark suit, looking slightly sinister and mischevious,with cigarette smoke swirling around him. (all in black and white, of course)Mr. Serling, if he were alive today, could doubtless offer a witty and sardonic discourse on Maricopa County that enable wannabe dictators to trample on the constitution and intimidate all who disagree with them, he might say, "You are now entering the valley of the delusional, where political sorcerers practice the black arts of race-baiting and character assassination. It's a Bizarre, Never-Never Land of snake oil politics and strutting demogauges, otherwise known as...THE TWILIGHT ZONE...

Mike Wells
Mike Wells

Whoo Hoo!!

I'm comin' back Arizona!! I'll be the next Maricopa County Attorney, since you obviously don't need to know the law to get the job.

Either that, or Thomas is playing everybody for the fool here. Here seriously didn't think that having his office both prosecute and defend THE SAME CASE would be a conflict of interest? Seriously? And then he thinks he can bring up a judge on charges, citing conflict of interest because that same judge 'might someday have an office in the new court building'? You have GOT to be kidding me.

Add in all the lying they've been caught doing in court and I can't understand why this case is even being allowed to continue.

Arpaio and Thomas are two of the reasons that I'm glad I got out of Arizona, but the politicians here in Utah are pretty nutty, too, so it's not really a total win in my book.

Lisa
Lisa

Who is this scumbag Bernstein? Aren't journalists supposed to have some kind of standards?

Marcy
Marcy

The sad thing about this entire sordid affair is that it has exposed just how delusional a large segment of Maricopa County voters are.

They'd vote for a rabid serial killer if the serial killer promised to arrest a few illegal immigrants.

They utterly fail to understand what history has taught us, tyrants come into power not by guns but with the full blessing of a deluded populace.

 
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